Unit 2 the Constitution

Parlieamtry sovereignty- a principle, fundemental to the British political system, that legal sovereignty lies with Parliament is the ultiimate source of all political power

Where does sovereginty lie in the British system?

- Parliament is legally sovereign.

- Uk gov shares this sovereignty to some extent because it has the people's mandate to implement its political programme. THis means Parliament should not normally defy the will of the government when it is acting within the people's mandate

The people are sovereign at elections

 Referendums do not grant sovereignty to the people because they are not binding on parliament

-EU has legal sovereignty in those areas where it has jurisdiction. Howver, the UK has not given up sovereignty finally to the EY because it can leave and regain all its sovereignty

- The devoled administrations do not have legal sovereignty, but they have quasi sovereignty. This means that the power granted to them is unlikely ever to return to Westminster

Exam tip

Students of politics confuse sovereignty and power, Sovereignty ultimate political power which cannot be overruled/ Power is a weaker expression

The role of a constitution

They establish the distribution of power within a political system

Establish the relationships between political instutuions and individuals

Define and estabilish the limits of government power

Specify the rights of individual citizens and how they are to be protected

define the nature of citizenship and how individuals may obtain citizenship

estabilish the territory which comes under the jursidiction of the government

establish and describe the arrangements for amending the constitution

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Define what a constitution is

A set of rules that establish and describe the distribution of power within a state, the procedures of government, the limits to government power and rights of citizens as well as rules on citizenship and constitutional amendment. A constution may be codified or uncodified, federal or unitary

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Analyse the distinctions between codified and unco


Written in a single document

therefore said to have a single source

Constitutional laws are superior to other laws, a feature known as ' dualism'

Special arrangments exist to estabilish new constutional laws, amend exisiting ones or repeal unwanted constitutional laws

Codified constitutions normally come into existence at one point in time, often after a national upheaval such as a revolution or the estabilishment of independence from a colonial master

Because the constitutional laws in a codified constitutional are superior and safeguarded, they are said to be entrenched. That means they cannot be set aside or changed without special safegaurding arrangments

Uncodified Constitution

Not written in a single document

Thefore has a number of different sources

Constutional laws are not superior to ther laws

The arrangments for chaning the laws of the constution are the same as those for passing other laws

Uncodified constiutions develop over time and are more flexible than codified constutions

Because constutional laws are not superior and can easily be changed, they are said to be unentrenched. They are not specially protected against change.

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Describe and explain the sources of the UK constut

Parliamentry statutes- these are laws, passed by the UK Parliament, which have a constitutional effect

Examples- The Human Rights Act 1998 brought the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law

The Scotland Act 1998 transferred considerable power to a Scottish Parliament

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 have considerable public access to official documents and information

Conventions- these are rules that are not legally enforceable, but which are considered binding and so are virtually laws

Examples- The Salisbury Convention is a rule that the House of Lords cannot obstruct a proposal that was contained in the governing party's last election manifesto

Collective cabinet responsibility states that memebers of the government should always defend all government policies

Common law- similiar to conventions, but they can be enforced by the courts

Examples- The use of prerogative powers by the prime minister results from common law, this means the prime minster has a range of powers, transferred from the monarchy, but not sanctioned by Parliament.

Many individual rights and freedoms are estabilished by common law

European Union treaties- THe UK has a signed a number of treaties, mostly concerning the transfer of power and svoereignty from the UK to the EU

Example- The Maastricth Treaty of 1992 and Lisbon( Reform) Treaty of 2007 both transferred power from the UK to the EU

Works of authority- These are the writings of constitutional experts which describe constutional practice. They have so much authority that they have become part of the constitution

Example- The Rule of law as described by nineteenth0 century constutional expert, A.V. Dicey, estabilished the principle of equality under the law

the 2010 O' Donnell Rules were written by the Cabinet Secretary as a guide to how to form a government with a hung parliament

Traditions- These are customs and practices that have grown up over a long period of time. They are not legal, but tend to persist


- The annual Queen's Speech 

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The nature of constitutional reform since 1997

A great deal of political sovereignty has been transferred to devolved administrations

More sovereignty has been transferred to the European Union

There has been an increasing use of referendums to resolve key issues

Arguably the power of the executive in relation to parliament has grown, giving it effectively more sovereignty

It has been argued that the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law is effectively a transfer of sovereignty over civil liberties

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Analyse the impact of the EU on the UK constution

The UK joined the EU in 1973, since then large amounts of sovereignty have been transferred to Europe- a process sometimes known as ' pooling sovereignty'. The impact of EU membership has been as follows:

-EU laws are superior to UK laws

- In any conflict between EU law and UK law, EU law prevails

-Uk courts must enforce EU law

- Appeasls based on EU law are heard in senior British coursts, but final appeals may go to the European Court of Justice

- Parliament has surrendered sovereignty to the EU in certain specific policy areas, as defined in a series of treaties. In these areas, sovereignty is pooled

-Areas of pooled sovereignty include trade, consumer law, employment law. agricultural subsidies and fishing regulation

- Parliamentry sovereignty has not been permenantly lost as the Uk can leave the EU

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The nature of constitutional reform since 1997


Elected mayoprs

The Human Rights Act

Freedom of information

House of Lords reform

Electoral reform

Judicial reform

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Effectiveness and impact of constitutional reforms

Key changes

Government has been decentralised through devolution and the introduction of elected mayors

Rights are better protected through the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act

The House of Lords, has arguably, become a better check on government

The electoral systems of Scotland, Wales and Northern Irealdn have been made more proportional

The judiciary is more independent, making it more able to protect rights and check abuses of governmental power

The introduction of fixed terrms means that governments cannot manipulate election dates for their own advantage

The proposals for reforming constiuency boundaries and introducing recall of MPs may make them more accountable

Criticisms and failed reforms

It can be argued that the United Kingdom has been weakened by devolution

The Human Rights Act and greater judicial independence have created conflict between senior judges and government

Parliamentry sovereignty meanst that rights cannot properly be protected

Electoral reform has failed

The future of House of Lords reform is uncertain and the Lords remains an undemocratic instution

Many argue that the UK still needs a codified constution

It is argued that the executive remains too strong and Parliament too weak

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